Despite momentous strides in recent years in the fight against cancer, treatments can still disrupt normal life. Both radiation and chemotherapy have side effects that can cause problems in other areas of health—particularly the teeth and gums.
If you or a loved one are undergoing cancer treatment, it's important to get ahead of any potential side effects it may have on dental health. Here are 4 things that can help protect teeth and gums while undergoing cancer treatment.
Get a preliminary dental exam. Before beginning treatment, patients should have their dentist examine their teeth and gums to establish a baseline for current dental health and to treat any problems that may already exist. However, patients should only undergo dental procedures in which the recovery time can be completed before starting radiation or chemotherapy.
Be meticulous about oral hygiene. Undergoing cancer treatment can increase the risks for developing tooth decay or gum disease. That's why it's important that patients thoroughly brush and floss everyday to reduce bacterial plaque buildup that causes disease. Patients should also reduce sugar in their diets, a prime food source for bacteria, and eat “teeth-friendly” foods filled with minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep teeth strong.
Keep up regular dental visits. The physical toll that results from cancer treatment often makes it difficult to carry on routine activities. Even so, patients should try to keep up regular dental visits during their treatment. Besides the extra disease prevention offered by dental cleanings, the dentist can also monitor for any changes in oral health and provide treatment if appropriate.
Minimize dry mouth. Undergoing cancer treatment can interfere with saliva production and flow. This can lead to chronic dry mouth and, without the full protection of saliva against dental disease, could increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Patients can minimize dry mouth by drinking more water, using saliva boosters and discussing medication alternatives with their doctor.
It may not be possible to fully avoid harm to your oral health during cancer treatment, and some form of dental restoration may be necessary later. But following these guidelines could minimize the damage and make it easier to regain your dental health afterward.
If you would like more information on dental care during cancer treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
Life has changed dramatically over the centuries. But although our ancient forebears wouldn't recognize much of our modern world, they would be well acquainted with one particular oral habit that still persists. There's some evidence from archeological dental examinations that our ancestors also clenched or ground their teeth.
This habit of involuntarily gnashing, clenching or grinding the teeth together is most prevalent among children, although not considered a major problem at these younger ages. But it can continue into adulthood, as it does for one in ten people, and lead to an array of problems from worn teeth to jaw joint pain.
As to why adult teeth grinding occurs, researchers have proposed a number of possibilities. Some believe it may be related to the arousal response that occurs when a person passes through various stages of sleep. It also appears that certain psychoactive drugs can trigger it. But at the top of the cause list, teeth grinding is believed to be a physical outlet for stress.
Because of the possibility of multiple causes, there is no one method for treatment—instead, it's better to tailor treatments to the individual. Universally, though, patients who use drugs, alcohol or tobacco, all of which are considered contributing factors, may reduce grinding episodes by restricting their use of these substances.
It's also possible to reduce the incidence of teeth grinding through better stress management. People can learn and use individual relaxation techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback. For sleep-related teeth grinding it may also be helpful to forgo use of electronic devices before bedtime for a better night's sleep.
Dental treatments like an occlusal guard worn mainly during sleep can minimize the effects of nocturnal teeth grinding. This custom-made appliance prevents teeth from coming fully into contact with each other, thus lowering the intensity of the biting forces generated and preventing cumulative damage to teeth and dental work.
If you have symptoms like sore teeth and jaws, reports from your family hearing you grind your teeth, or catching yourself during the day clenching your teeth, make an appointment for a full examination. From there, we'll help you find the right combination of solutions to keep this old habit from complicating your oral health.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Teeth Grinding.”
The NBA's reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo may seem unstoppable, but he proved no match for a troubled tooth. Antetokounmpo, the self-proclaimed “Greek Freak,” missed one of the final three 2020 regular season games for a dental issue that resulted in last-minute oral surgery. According to a Milwaukee Bucks spokesperson, the star underwent “a root-canal like procedure.”
Root canal therapy, often simply called “a root canal,” may be needed when there is an infection inside the tooth. When dental pulp becomes inflamed or infected, excruciating pain can result. Pulp is the soft tissue that fills the inside of the tooth. It is made up of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. During root canal treatment, the pulp is removed, the space inside the tooth is disinfected, it is filled with a special material, and then the hole is sealed up.
A root canal is nothing to fear. It relieves pain by getting rid of infection and is so effective that over 15 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year. This routine procedure generally requires only local anesthetic, and your mouth should be back to normal within a day or two after treatment. Antetokounmpo can attest to that, as he returned to play the next day.
However, delaying root canal treatment when you need it can have serious consequences. If left untreated, an infection inside the tooth continues to spread, and it may move into the gums and jaw and cause other problems in the body. So, how do you know if you may need a root canal? Here are some signs:
Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. One sign of nerve damage inside your tooth is pain that is still there 30 seconds after eating or drinking something hot or cold.
Intense pain when biting down. You may feel pain deep within your tooth, or in your jaw, face or other teeth. The pain may be hard to pinpoint—and even if it improves at times, it usually comes back.
A chipped, cracked or discolored tooth. A chip or crack can allow bacteria to enter the tooth, and the tooth may darken if the tissue inside is damaged.
A pimple on the gum. A bump or pimple on the gum that doesn't go away or keeps coming back may signify that a nearby tooth is infected.
Tender, swollen gums. Swollen gums may indicate an infection inside the tooth or the need for periodontal treatment.
And sometimes there is no pain, but an infection may be discovered during a dental exam.
Tooth pain should never be ignored, so don't put off a dental visit when you have a toothache. In fact, if a bad toothache goes away, it could mean that the nerves inside the tooth have died, but the infection may still be raging. Also, be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups. We may spot a small problem that can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem that would require more extensive treatment.
Remember, for dental issues both large and small, we're on your team! If you would like more information about tooth pain, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
During this time of year, many of us dust off traditional family recipes and make our favorite holiday treats. There is, however, a small price to pay for all that nostalgic goodness in the shape of a few extra pounds to deal with in the new year. We may also be increasing the risk for something even more unpleasant: tooth decay.
The main cause, of course, is a certain carbohydrate integral to many holiday goodies: sugar. We humans love it, but so do oral bacteria that readily devour any sugar lingering in our mouth after eating. This fuels bacterial reproduction, which in turn increases the production of acid that softens tooth enamel.
There are a number of strategies you can follow to reduce this effect. You can remove sugar completely from your holiday preparations—and risk family and friends “voting you off the island.” Or, you can try these tips for easing the impact of holiday sugar on your dental health.
Look for ways to reduce sugar. Just because you're not throwing the sugar bowl out the window doesn't mean you have to go all out using it. Instead, try to modify older recipes (or look for newer versions) to decrease the amount of sugar in candies and baked goods. You may also consider alternative sweeteners like sucralose that tolerate high baking temperatures.
Balance savory with sweet. Not all holiday treats need to be sweet—you can add items that take advantage of more savory seasonings. For example, try offering up popcorn with a sprinkling of cinnamon or other holiday spice, or a creative assortment of cheeses (which in turn promote saliva flow to neutralize acid).
Combine treats with mealtimes. Continuous snacking may be part of the holiday tradition, but it can also raise the risk for tooth decay. Acidity increases when we eat, but saliva normally neutralizes it within thirty minutes to an hour. However, saliva can get overwhelmed during continuous snacking, resulting in longer periods of high acidity that damages tooth enamel. Instead, try to combine snack times with mealtimes.
Don't neglect your oral hygiene. Even though things can get hectic during the holidays, make a point of keeping up daily brushing and flossing. Regular hygiene keeps dental plaque, a thin film of harmful bacteria and food particles (including sugar), from building up on your teeth. Reducing plaque lowers your overall decay risk. Attention to oral health through your day-to-day dental hygiene routine along with regular professional cleanings and checkups is the best thing you can do to avoid dental disease.
The holidays should be a joyous time for you and your family. They can also be a healthy time for your teeth and gums, if you minimize the role of sugar in your holiday treats.
If you would like more information about boosting your dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
If we were playing word association with the term “oral hygiene,” you'd probably answer “brushing.” And you would be right—brushing cleans tooth surfaces of accumulated bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm most responsible for dental disease.
But brushing is only half of the oral hygiene equation: You also need to remove dental plaque between teeth where brushing can't reach. And, that requires that other practice—flossing.
Unfortunately, brushing is more popular than its hygienic sibling because many people find traditional thread flossing more difficult and messier than brushing. That can make it tempting to skip flossing—but then you're only getting half the benefit of oral hygiene for reducing the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
There is, however, a way to floss that doesn't involve a roll of thread: oral irrigation. This form of flossing uses a countertop device that directs a pressurized spray of water between teeth through a handheld wand. The directed spray loosens and then flushes away accumulated plaque.
Oral irrigators (also known as water flossers) have been an important tool for decades in dental offices, and have been available for home use since the 1960s. In the last few years, though, the devices have become more compact and easier to use. More importantly, studies have shown they're as effective in removing between-teeth plaque as regular flossing.
These irrigation devices are especially useful for people wearing braces. The attached brackets and wires make it extremely difficult to maneuver flossing thread between teeth. Because of this (as well as similar difficulties in brushing), patients are more susceptible to dental disease while undergoing orthodontic treatment.
But a 2008 study showed that oral irrigators are quite effective for braces wearers in removing between-teeth plaque. It found those who used an irrigator after brushing removed five times the amount of plaque than those that only brushed.
Even if you're not wearing braces, you may still find an oral irrigator to be a useful flossing alternative. Speak with your dentist for recommendations on what to look for in an oral irrigator and tips on how to use it. It could make a positive difference in your dental health.
If you would like more information on how best to keep your teeth and gums clean, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
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